Questioning the Magic at Herbal Magic - CBC Marketplace
This investigative report focuses on some of the products used at Herbal Magic, and its marketing techniques. You can watch the original Marketplace program. Reporters went undercover at a number of locations across Canada, including their flagship store in Toronto. The company president didn't have the answers in his "pocket". It was a great show. Follow the comments after the article for feedback from some customers.
Herbal Magic offers to pay off California's Herbal Magic, Inc.
A few years ago, when Canadian based Herbal Magic was bought out by Florida based investors they wanted to register the web site known as www.herbalmagic.com as their own. Their lawyers contacted the owner of the web site, Renee Ponder, a California herbalist who has been doing business in that State for nearly a quarter century.
Since her web site used the name of their trademark which was registered years after Renee's company was founded, it seemed like they would just try to bully her into giving up her web site. They insulted her with very low offers and she is still waiting for an offer she couldn't refuse.
It now seems that Renee must have taken an offer that she couldn't refuse because as of Nov 29, 2006, the web site domain known as www.herbalmagic.com seems to be registered with Network Solutions. The mailing address is right here in London, Ontario. The amount that was probably offered to Renee was sufficient to have her relinquish her hold on the Domain Name. When you now go to www.herbalmagic.com's web site because you are interested in ordering from Renee Ponder, they provide you with this link - www.reneeponderherbs.com. Coincidently, her new web site was also dated November 29, 2006.
You can still see what Renee's Herbal Magic web site looked like going way back to 1999.
In October 2006 "TD Capital Mezzanine Partners' investment was used together with equity investments from Torquest Partners and other investors to fund the acquisition of Herbal Magic." They put in $5 million in equity and had a subordinated debenture of $20 million in the new company.
On November 2, 2006 it was announced that Trivest Partners completed the sale of Herbal Magic to TorQuest Partners on Business Wire.
It is pretty clear to me that these recent investments and yet another turnover of the company was based on the bottom line that they were making a lot of money for their owners. But, have they ever published a single study of their long term clinical results anywhere? The answer is no. And, it's now about 6 months later.
Is the new Herbal Magic, Inc.'s heavy TV and print ad campaigns in Canada, that in my opinion consist of nothing more than testimonials and glowing and as yet unsupported claims, enough to stimulate further growth? Will they spread their operation down in the United States where weight loss clinics seem to be a dime a dozen?
Canadian Parents Forum comments on Herbal Magic
A forum run by CanadianParents.com has a section where readers have left their thoughts on the Herbal Magic program.
ShannonW has this to say and asks for comments:
"Crazy isn't it? The initial start up with their starter kit was $1200, they are very pushy and I thought I had to buy the starter kit, for an extra 350, which is a total rip off, for a canvas bag some bars and a few other things, total rip off, the 800 start up fee is for their support you have to go in 3x a week. Anyways, it costs 57 a week for the pills and an additional 30 a month for the rest of the pills,"
"Hi, anyone out there do herbal magic, I've been going for 2 months and have spent almost 2000$ It is crazy, I stand to spend another 2500 before reaching my goal!!! I have to quit it is too expensive for something i can do on my own. So far I've lost 22 pounds, which is right on track with what i lost using Weight Watchers, after my first baby, I just had to vent, I immediately regretted joining but they are good at pressuring you to join right on the spot , and I was having a weak moment, oh well maybe this will help someone else who is trying to decide, there are no magic pills, it is all in the diet."
Herbal Magic's new name
In 2006 many of the Herbal Magic operations started advertising as Herbal Magic Wellness Centres. It's really amazing that a company that started out marketing herbal weight loss products, and then added products to enhance sexual performance or breast size should now be morphed into a "wellness centre". Some of these centres run promotions with Rogers Communications radio stations.
Herbal Magic doesn't like what I have to say.
In April and again in July 2006 Tony Wong, a lawyer from the prestigious law firm of Blake, Cassels, and Graydon LLP, acting on instructions from the present owner of the Herbal Magic(HM) franchise empire headquartered in London, Ontario sent letters to my Internet Service Provider. Apparently, free speech is not in their vocabulary, and fair comment certainly is banned from their board rooms and executive round tables. They instructed Wong to make sure that my web site that criticized HM was removed from the internet forever.
They attacked Dr. Terry Polevoy, MD, the founder of this web site, with what one could all frivolous, malicious and vexatious attacks that caused him untoward personal damages and countless hours of scrambling around the internet in an attempt to maintain this site as a beacon in the world of flim-flam alternative health care as well as nutritional and diet fraud. In May 2006, the net result of Mr. Wong's complaint was the shutdown of every single web site that Dr. Polevoy has designed and controlled over the last eight years. It didn't matter that the other five web sites controlled by Polevoy had nothing to do with his complaint, and it didn't concern Wong that 99% of the other sections of Dietfraud.com were also shut down.
In May, 1&1.com of Pennsylvania closed all of them down permanently, including Dr. Polevoy's personal e-mail. They did this without notice. After moving all of the web sites to bluehost.com all things went smoothly. Then on July 25, 2006 another letter from Mr. Wong was sent to Bluehost.com to again protest Polevoy's web site. This time he complained that he didn't like the NAME of my web site, DUH!. The entire web site is of course called Dietfraud.com and it has been called that for years. Nobody else has ever complained about the name before.
It ain't what you say, it's how you say it - Part II
On November 3, 2005 I heard from the current owner of Herbal Magic's weight loss franchise empire from his London office. I had complained about an advertisement that was previously posted in The Record's Business Spotlight section about seven years ago. Was he calling about that web site?
It was obvious to me that he was not interested in that old site. It so happens that he had purchased the company a few years ago and seemed to have taken offense because I had sent a complaint to some people who regulate health professions in Ontario. It was in response to a huge colourful advertisement that made it into the Waterloo Chronicle on November 2, 2005. Apparently it was inserted without being reviewed by the head office.
There are statements in that advertisement which are clearly meant to deceive the public.
For instance they say that they are:
"Specialists in pharmacy and naturopathic medicine"
Pharmacy is a regulated health profession in all Provinces and Territories across Canada, and naturopathic medicine is government by the Board of Drugless Practitioners - Naturopathy in Ontario. Nobody has the right to use those words to advertise services under Provincial Acts. There are no naturopathic doctors or pharmacist in their stores.
In addition, they make the claims that they have:
"Superior natural herbal supplements"
And they use a "seal", (a white circle in this advertisement), that makes the claims that they have the approval of the Natural Health Products Directorate. They place this "seal" right after the line above. The NHPD does not rate things as "superior". It takes very little to have the NHPD approve a product,
and it does not guarantee their safety. In fact, most of the products made by at least one of their manufacturers, Douglas Laboratories from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were given DIN number years ago by the old Health Canada organization. To check on the other companies that have had their products given registration numbers by the NHPD click here.
Douglas has been selling to chiropractors, and other health professionals for decades. As far as I can tell, none of the claims for their herbal or weight loss products have been accepted as valid by the FDA. You can see for yourself by going to their Weight Loss Protocols (Adobe .pdf format), what they promote.
For more details about Douglas Laboratories and the promotion of their own products
click here for their Directive's page. It frightening that this company still promotes their products to health professionals, like chiropractors and naturopaths, through deceptive tests such as "hair analysis", etc. One of their programs is called theh "Merkle Patient Testing & Analysis Program". It was devised by a chiropractor, Dr. Van D. Merkle, who was a user and promoter of their products to his patients. You can check out one his self-promoting web sites called masteringbloodanalysis.com, where he teaches others to use the same bogus techniques. In fact, Merkle says much more on his own Mastering Blood Analysis web site in Dayton, Ohio.
Douglas Labs refer to it as the MBA (Merkle Blood Analysis) program and it claims that:
"[It] is state of the art computerized laboratory analysis providing a highly advanced objective medical analysis, taking into account many factors including medications, patient symptoms, blood testing, hair analysis etc. producing a report that includes vitamin and dietary recommendations that is patient and doctor friendly even those new to laboratory analysis."
Douglas Laboratories has a professional brochure that describes in detail what their company is all about, and it is called Douglas Capabilities.
Another statement in the Herbal Magic ad which is dubious at best:
"Councillors, you meet one on one with our trained certified staff"
Unfortunately, this is deceptive as well. What are the training programs that they offer their staff, and what does "certififation"(sic) really mean? Only dieticians in Ontario have official certification under law to deal with dietary problems related to medical problems. Staff hired by companies like this have little or no academic background and they should not be considered to be "certified" in anything, since there is no such "certifiying agency" in Ontario, or in fact in Canada.
The company representative insisted that their training program was top of the heap, and it involved the use of CD-ROMs full of information about their products.
One of the main problems is the fact that companies like Herbal Magic have never published a single paper on their success rate. How they could make the following statement is amazing:
That statement is totally and completely false. I have received a
number of serious complaints over the years in regards to people who have had
side effects from herbal products, and who have had difficulty with weight-loss programs just like theirs.
- "WEIGHT LOSS DESIGNED FOR YOUR LIFE...NOW AND FOREVER"
Over the years Herbal Magic has made wild and unsupported claims for many of their herbal products, especially in the area of erectile dysfunction, and sexual enhancement products. I remember watching a video at their store on Wonderland Road in London a few years ago that inferred that their products could prevent or treat cancer patients. Their weight-loss ads use testimonials and before and after pictures without identifying the dates that the pictures were actually taken. This is a technique that is used my many other weight loss franchises around the world, and is amply demonstrated widely on Dietfraud.com's numerous web pages.
After listening to his rebuttal of my complaint, I began to wonder if he really knew what was going on with his franchisees. Well, it so happens that the complaints that I made were justified, because the situation with some franchisees has evidently not changed very much in the last few years.
One of the most egregious web sites is for an advertisement in the Midland, Ontario area.
Click here to judge for yourself. - The site was accessed on November 4, 2005.
The claims are made for the for the following conditions:
* Good Health?
* Weight Management?
* Sports Injury?
* Chronic Sickness?
* Back Pain?
* Body Building?
* Digestive Problems?
Who is using Herbal Magic™ Systems Products??
* Active Professionals wishing to maintain their vitality.
* Individuals that are having a difficult time maintaining
their desired weight.
* Individuals with symptoms of physical and psychological stress.
* Individuals with certain health illness.
Do you believe in magic?
Are weight loss and health claims validated by any scientific studies? - The head of Herbal Magic tells me that they are really concentrating on weight loss, and have limited areas of interest in the other medical problems despite the fact that the list above is clearly not the case.
He says that the staff have an extensive training program and that their offices are linked to a library of herbal product database that is instantly updated. There are no naturopaths or pharmacists in their local offices, and if patients are having problems they are told to see their family doctor. Well, in my area, 10% of our citizens don't have a family doctor. What is the average retail sales person at the desk supposed to do about this? How could a few CD-ROMS full of interactive software possibly prepare the sales people to assess whether or not a customer is having problems with the products?
Then there is the question of whether or not any company has the right to place the name of a department of our Federal government in ANY advertisement. These folks have consistently had ads running in our local newspapers that have displayed some kind of apparent "seal of approval", a "blue ribbon" and other such nonsense that in my opinion implies that the Natural Health Products Directorate approves of their products. Just because there is a NHPD does not mean that any of the products are effective as claimed for the conditions listed above. As far as I am concerned the NHPD is being used by companies like this, and this is not justified.
The products sold at the Herbal Magic counter are imported from companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and that has been going on for years. Anyone can just walk in and purchase them. They don't have to be a weight-loss client.
Do you think that Health Canada or the NHPD actually plans to visit their stores to see how the registered products are being sold? Furthermore, do you think that they plan any real analysis of those products in the future after they grant the company the right to import and then sell them in Canada?
For details of how the NHPD actually arrives at the decision to give each of their products an NPN - Natural Products Number, you will surprised. In fact, you will have to pay at least five dollars and file an ATIP with the Federal government if you want to attempt to learn about any of this, and that goes for any company. The NHPD has a track record that has not been well established. Some of the products in recent months that have been given an NPN are used to treat cancer patients in a quack cancer clinic in our own nation's capital. Another product granted approval has actually been blocked from sale, and that same company has been charged with serious violations of the Food and Drug Act that go back many years.
So, I challenge the management of any company in the weight loss business to publish their results, and to follow up with their franchisees to assure the public that they are not in the snake-oil business. So far, only Weight Watchers has done that. Herbal Magic, despite its best efforts and claims that they are doing a great job serving their customers, has to prove it to the regulators and to me.
I encourage anyone who feels that they may have been injured or become ill from any herbal product to contact Health Canada and fill out the Adverse Reporting Form. In addition, anyone who feels that any company has failed to provide adequate services for the money to complain to the Better Business Bureau in their community. Herbal products have been widely pushed in the market place, and Herbal Magic now has new competition in our area. Are the same standards basically being duplicated by these new entities?
Herbal products generally make the claims that they are "natural" and "safe", but the evidence that they are effective, or "safe" for many people is just not there. That is not just my opinion. Consumers must be made aware that the vendors' claims may not be what they say, and that there may be complications with any ingested or applied natural product. Those are the facts, and we need to tell our patients that over and over again.
Terry Polevoy, MD
November 4, 2005
Weight loss product news
Weight-loss worries - National Post - Rosie Schwartz - May 16, 2006
'Scientifically proven' programs for shedding pounds are never what they claim to be. In fact, they can include suspicious chemical combinations. The author notes that Herbal Magictm charges hundreds of dollars for just a few weeks of their supplements. If one doesn't work, then go to another one. You plateau - guess what - there's more available. All of the following are trademarked but that doesn't mean that they work as advertised. The prices for a number of HM products were in Canadian dollars and the article above was printed in May 2006.
WM-4000 - $54/wk.
Platoria - $150/wk.
Views from beyond the Golden Haze - September 1998
The London, Ontario based weight loss stores have another edge lately. With claims that their
products will possibly help out your prostate they have entered, disclaimers and all, the world
Pfizertm has gone off the deep end
with this one. So here is another nightmare for them to contend with.
About 1 kilometer from my office which is in the building recently vacated by
Shoppers Drug Marttm, I spotted a huge yellow temporary
sign bearing the name Viagra. Inside the store were similar smaller signs. This company is
so slick, that even the Shoppers Drug Mart employees I spoke to would never knowlingly send
anyone over there. Mind you, SDM employees I regularly speak with know nothing about herbs
either, despite the fact that they sell them. But that's another story.
Their new web site brags that their company is the fastest growing franchise of its type in
North America. They say that they are aggressive in their marketing. I just couldn't find any
mention of honesty in advertising in all of this bull. The only thing I found was a reference
to someone called a Nutritional Consultant, and the fact that
"All materials are certified for potency and purity before acceptance, after which stringent
physical, chemical and microbiological tests are performed during the production process. Simply
put, we offer the best product line available."
The fact is, the products are not standardized by anyone in the government. In recent tests by
Consumers Reports and by independent agencies of numerous vendors, there is almost no standardization
for the industry.
Herbal Magic claims to have seen 750,000 people. Can they supply us with that information to
substantiate their claims?
Here are the two pictures I took on September 2, 1998 at the Sherwood Forest Mall in London
HEARD ABOUT VIAGRA. Now there's URO-COMPLEX! This goes along with their
London Free Press campaign of the previous week. The URO crap is nothing
more than a bunch of herbs.
FAST * EASY WEIGHT LOSS - 1st 20 lbs. FREE. It's the fllip side of
the Viagra sign. Behind it is a Tim Hortons. The ad in the paper said Lose
30 pounds in 30 days for $30. Lose up to 42 lbs. by THANKSGIVING DAY inside
The owner of two of their stores was recently featured on the Wayne
Hussey show on CKGL in Kitchener where he spoke about how to
hire help. Well if the Sherwood Forest Mall store was any indication, that guy should head on
over to London and learn something about tap dancing.
I approached the glass counter that edges close to the mall entrance. I leafed
through the loose leaf book that featured every name and description of what they
sell. On the counter in front of me were many full colour brochures describing their
collection of herbs. But, a crudely made hand coloured sign, made out of what looked
like a piece of hard board, the kind that might come back from your dry cleaners was
staring me in the face. I couldn't get a picture of it, but the wording was just like
their ad on the sign and in the paper, except for one item, this sign again had
the word VIAGRA (without the trademark on it).
I told the young girl that they were in violation of Canada's Trademark laws, and
that Pfizertm would be sending down their pit
bulls tomorrow to chew the sign up. So, she quickly removed it with the
disclaimer, "I just work here, I didn't know it was wrong."
I will be recording their trials and tribulations, and keep you posted
on these herbal magicians. Only, I think I better learn how to make them
disappear really quickly, before the Health Protection Branch, or the Competition
Bureau does it for me.
DIET FRAUD ALERT
Anyone who has felt that the have not gotten
a square deal, or a square meal from these "nothing up my sleeve"
artists, please let us know. We'd also like to hear from any former employees
about how they were hired, what kind of background they had, and whether
their employer spent any time at all explaining the risks that they took
when they were trained to be magically adept at hoodwinking the public
into believing that herbal weight loss is safe.
If my feelings are correct, these people know about as much about herbal medicine
or weight loss as I know about operating a sewing machine. Judging from the number
of missing buttons, and holes in socks, I guess you can tell where I'm coming from.
Judging from the decisions made
jointly by the FDA and the FTC, Herbal Magic better examine its very reason for
existance, or get a really good lawyer to look at the
implications of what they have done. Health Canada and the Competition
Bureau as well as Ontario's Consumer and Corporate Relations have been
educating themselves at Herbal Magic counters as of late, so I am told.
Now compare this with Health Canada's gutless reform promised in May 1997.
Check the Ontario Herbalist Association Draft Proposal
- Guidelines to be adopted by government for the regulation of herbs and herbal products.
FTC's Operation Cure-ALL
- really goes after the crooks.
- A Study into a resolution of herbal products in Canada.
Herbal Report Comes Up Short
Canadian Pharmacists Association - May 14, 1998 - These folks are at war with health food stores,
herbalists, naturopaths, homeopaths, and the rest of the world. Repeated complaints to the Ontario
College of Pharmacists regarding false claims in Shoppers Drug Mart has
led to a big fat zero in terms of self-regulation. It's in their interest
to dilute the knowledge to keep sales up, particularly at Shoppers, where
they need to fill up shelf space as one Province after another bans the
sale their own Imperial
Herbal Magic's Homepage
from Midland, Ontario
Are you concerned about your health? What about carcinogens, body building, arthritis, constipation? They won't cut corners giving you herbs, but will you let them play doctor with your health?
thinks that the Herbal Magic franchisees make good business, but has he sampled their wares,
or checked out their claims?
Cancer cures from Herbal Magic products?Shar - Klene -- Stimulates Immune System - Destroys Cancer Cells
WM - 2000® -- Weight Loss/ Stabilization/ Maintenance / Energy (Lose up to 3-7 lb. Per week)
Cellulite Emulsion -- Fat Breakdown- Eliminates Unsightly bumps and bulges.
Chromium GTF - 200 -- Inhibits Fat Production. Increases Fat Metabolism. Lowers Cholesterol. Maintains Stable Blood Sugar Level.
Formula A.O. -- Antioxidants and Vitamin and Minerals. Reduces Incidence of Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, Cell Damage and Heart Disease.